Meet the Humboldt Park mom, weightlifter and influencer competing in Miss Illinois, USA.

HUMBOLDT PARK – A Humboldt Park native will take the stage at the Miss Illinois USA pageant this weekend.

Bee Vargas, an Afro-Latina businesswoman, mother, social media influencer and pageant contestant, is headed to Normal, Illinois, as Miss Humboldt Park to compete in the state pageant, a subset of Miss United States and Miss Universe.

Vargas, who was named Miss Illinois North America last year as part of a different pageant system, said she hopes to change the definitions of beauty within the competition.

Eight to 16 semifinalists will be named after this weekend’s preliminary round, which includes a sportswear/swimsuit portion and an evening dress and interview segment, according to the website. Five finalists will compete for the title and the right to represent Illinois in the nationally televised Miss USA pageant.

“I have always loved contests. Growing up, you watched all the contests on TV and it was very exciting,” Vargas said. “I always enjoyed watching it and as I got older I realized it could be a bit toxic. …I wish there was more diversity in these competitions. “I would love to see a woman like me on stage.”

This year’s Miss USA pageant system introduces a new set of qualifications, Vargas said. The organization lifted its age, marriage and pregnancy restrictions last year, opening the door for more women to compete, Vargas said.

“They’re realizing that every woman can be a beauty queen, every woman can do this, so it’s really a groundbreaking year for Miss United States and I’m so excited to be a part of it,” Vargas said.

Vargas poses for a portrait in Humboldt Park on April 25, 2024 Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Until this year there have been no women to compete in Miss Illinois USA who are over 30 years old, married or have children, Vargas said. The 34-year-old is mother to 7-week-old Milo.

Having a child has further fueled Vargas’ mission to increase body positivity and diversity in the pageant world, she said.

“I want to teach my son that women are amazing, strong and capable,” she said. “I want him to be an amazing little human being when he grows up, and I want him to see and be proud of his mom for trying to break down these barriers and these stereotypes.”

Representing Humboldt Park is also close to Vargas’ heart, especially coming from two cultures. Growing up in the neighborhood, some questioned Vargas’ identity because she didn’t look like a typical Puerto Rican, he said. Having a strong, close-knit community helped her overcome those difficulties and turn them into love for her heritage, she said.

“Being here helped foster my love of my heritage and I wanted to learn more about my roots, my grandparents and my island people,” she said. “This is what I am; I am Afro-Latina and I love what Humboldt Park has: that sense of community and that sense of love for the island. I love being able to put on the sash and represent such a beautiful and vibrant neighborhood.”

Vargas is a weightlifter and entrepreneur who founded a plus-size fitness brand. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

This mission complements the work Vargas began in 2020 when she founded All Bodies Are Gym Bodies, a plus-size fitness brand that aims to help women feel confident in their bodies and in the gym. Through her company, Vargas has organized classes for plus-size women that are safe spaces for them to feel seen and connect with others.

Vargas, a weightlifter who uses her platform to promote self-love, showcase her gym workouts and encourage women, said the brand grew organically and unexpectedly, but it’s proof that a sense of community is key to fostering greater empowerment through fitness.

Women across Chicago found Vargas’ posts inspiring and a break from stereotypical gym culture, she said.

“They were like, ‘You have a body like mine, and you’re at the gym doing this and you’re showing your thighs at the gym, and you’re wearing shorts and sports bras and this is what my arms look like,'” Vargas said. “Women loved seeing real bodies and bodies like theirs doing things they didn’t think they could do.

“It was one of the first moments where I realized that I could use my social media presence for good, like I could be someone that women looked up to and I could be the person that when I was younger I had someone to look up to. who to admire .”

Controversy has swirled around the Miss USA pageant system in recent days. The Miss USA and Miss Teen USA 2023 titleholders have resigned, citing unfair and toxic work environments, according to USA Today.

Vargas acknowledged the drama and said that the fundamental values ​​for which he competes remain in force.

“I have faith that this organization will thrive and return to its roots of women empowerment,” Vargas said. “I will always support women and their need to take care of their mental, physical and spiritual well-being, and I wish the former Miss and Teen USA all the best.”

In Vargas’ past experience competing, the women have supported each other and shown a “sisterhood” of camaraderie that excites her for the next competition, she said.

“I’m actually really excited about the swimsuit part because I’m excited to say, ‘This is my body in a swimsuit, I feel great and I look great,’” she said.

People can vote for Vargas in the pageant’s 2024 People’s Choice Award, which will guarantee a spot in the competition’s semifinals this summer. Voting costs $5 and is open until Saturday.

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